The CHI 97 Development Consortium
Austin Henderson, Gerrit van der Veer
Vol.29 No.4, October 1997
- The Purpose
What We Learned
Agenda for Action Bottom line
In pursuing the theme of CHI 97, "Looking to the Future", Scooter Morris, the Conference Management Committee's liaison to CHI 97 helped to create a new conference venue, the Development Consortium. (Thank you CMC.) Patterned on the Doctoral Consortium, the Development Consortium would focus effort on extending the constituency of the CHI conference (and therefore the SIGCHI community) to a group not currently included. Each year, a different group would be chosen, and indeed the defining characteristics of that group would be reconsidered yearly as well. For CHI 97, the defining characteristic was taken as geographic, and the targeted group was defined to be HCI researchers and practitioners from countries whose soft and low-valued currency made their attendance at CHI impossible without significant support. The goal of the Development Consortium was to expose the group to the conference, and to engage them in formulating an agenda for action which would extended CHI and SIGCHI to their constituency.
Scooter took the idea to the CHI 97 conference chairs, Steven Pemberton and Alan Edwards, who agreed to support this activity at the conference as a special workshop. (Thank you CHI 97.) However, recognizing that this particular target group could only be reached if the conference were able to underwrite all their expenses, and that the conference could not afford this level of support, Scooter, Steven and Alan made a successful proposal to the SIGCHI Development Fund for funds for this extraordinary expense. (Thank you, SIGCHI.) They then enticed us, Austin Henderson and Gerrit van der Veer, to chair the activity. (Thank you Apple Computer and the Vrije University.) We formed a small board of advisors, who guided us in shaping the policies and activities. Some also helped with logistics, and participated in hosting the activities.
Submissions were taken in the same style as all other CHI 97 submissions. We asked submitters to tell us briefly about their own area of HCI work, the state of HCI in their region/country, and the things that they saw that we could do to include them and their colleagues in the CHI/SIGCHI community. We received only a small number of submissions. (We learned in the end that all of them had resulted from personal contact, despite broad e-mail distribution of the call for participation; most people's understanding of English was not good enough to be sure that the call was offering financial support, or that "soft currency country" meant them.) The advisory board reviewed, and from which we chose seven groups to attend CHI and participate in the Development Consortium. Although not limited geographically, the groups that attended were all from Eastern Europe: Russia, Poland, The Czech Republic. We were also joined by a CHI attendee from Bulgaria. All participants were from academia, although most of them also spend considerable time in industry in consulting, teaching, and product development.
In actuality, attending started with significant problems for some participants in obtaining visas. Getting the right information to their local United States Embassy, and persuading the bureaucracy that what was called a "development consortium" was really an academic conference involved a great deal of support from the staff at ACM headquarters. (Thank you ACM SIG Services.) In the end, visa troubles prevented one submitter from attending. The mechanics of money also presented a problem, as we did not want to require participants to have to handle and account for SIGCHI money. Arrangements were made for as many expenses as possible to be billed to the conference, and the others to be covered by people hosting the Development Consortium (us, the advisors, and other conference staff). In the end, the only way to handle travel costs was by reimbursements in cash, cash being the only universally negotiable commodity. (Thank you, CHI 97 professional staff, ACM SIG and Financial services.)
With support from everybody concerned, we met each group as they arrived at the Atlanta airport (Gerrit even met some en route at Schiphol in Amsterdam), including tracking them as airlines cancelled and changed flights, mis-informed us -- the usually vagaries of travel, and got them to their hotel. By Saturday morning, March 21, all that were expected had arrived. On Saturday, amid other activities, participants chose tutorials, completed conference registration including tutorials, and got generally plugged into CHI 97. (Thank you CHI 97 registration staff.) At the end of the conference, student volunteers helped anyone who needed it to get safely back on their returning flights.
The Development Consortium had 4 scheduled activities at the conference:
- The first, and foremost activity, was for all the participants to attend and participate in CHI 97.
- Therefore, the primary orienting activity was held on Saturday, preceding the conference. We were welcomed by the conference co-chairs, and the ACM SIG Services staff. Then in discussion, we got to know each other, the state of HCI in Eastern Europe, and began the thinking about what CHI/SIGCHI might do to support the Eastern European HCI communities.
- On Wednesday, a SIG was held in which the Development Consortium reported its current thinking to the conference. About 40 people attended, and the discussion further extended our thinking.
- Finally, Thursday lunch, and through the afternoon break, was spend finalizing our thinking and developing an agenda for action. This program succeeded in providing the participants with essentially the full experience of attending the conference, and considerable time to do develop an agenda.
There were also innumerable unscheduled activities occasioned by the Development Consortium. Most meals were an opportunity to meet new people, and extend our understanding of each other. The participants spent lunches with the student volunteers, proving a way to put these issues on the table of those who are future of HCI/SIGCHI/CHI. (Thank you, CHI 97 Student Volunteers.) Parties, the like of which Austin last experienced in St. Petersburg at EWHCI'92 and Moscow at EWHCI'93, impressed upon us just how much the participants could expand our HCI culture as well as our subject matter; they showed us how much they had to bring, and were bringing, to CHI. (Thank you, DevCon participants.)
HCI suffers much the same difficulties in Eastern Europe as it does elsewhere in the world. These include:
- the difficulty of finding an appropriate home within academia for this multi-disciplinary study. Marcin Sikorski, at the Technical University of Gdansk, Poland is having success by housing HCI as the Ergonomics Department in the Faculty of Management where its utility is becoming increasingly clear.
- the difficulty of having curricula for HCI, accredited by recognized authority, appropriate to the various academic perspectives being brought to it. Sharing course material may help, but authority is needed. The European Community is developing a capability for accrediting curricula (ECTS).
- the difficulty of getting the academic ideas into the products being created in industry. Solutions of having "sabbaticals" from academia in industry, and from industry in academia are successful, but how to make them economically viable is not.
- the difficulty of getting information, particularly due to the high cost of printed academic journals in Eastern Europe. The web is helping a lot, as is the "Joint ACM Membership" (where five people can share a single ACM membership).
The web has made a huge difference to the sense in Eastern Europe of being connected to the rest of the world, particularly America. However a number of difficulties were clear:
- the Internet is very slow in Eastern Europe, particularly when accessing sites outside Europe; mirrors are needed;
- the material that is put on the web does not include everything that is needed, and has lots of holes; information is needed on: people, books, interesting work, Multi-lingual, jobs (bid & asked), internships, and meta-information (to establish its quality);
- there is no organized collecting and structuring of information on the web for the HCI community; someone in charge is needed.
- Language on the web both is, and is not an issue: For the most part, everyone is satisfied with English as a language for exchange of information; it provides a common format, all students have to learn it and write in it, visiting students and lecturers means that many courses are taught in it, and the EU is forcing the use of English for technical discourse. On the other hand, local information exchange, particularly with and within industry, requires local language. On the web, access to translated materials is therefore very desirable.
Concerning attending CHI:
- The cost of attending CHI is still too high. And holding it in Europe would not help: from Prague, it's cheaper to get to Atlanta than to Copenhagen. One solution: combining attendance at CHI with internship, sabbatical or lecturing travel would cover much of the cost; have CHI/SIGCHI create the communication environment to enable such opportunities to be developed.
- Increase the participation of students in the CHI Student Volunteer and Doctoral Consortium programmes.
- Encourage experts to give CHI tutorials.
A number of projects were outlined as part of the discussions at the Development Consortium. They covered much ground, a lot of which we couldn't do to much about. However, in all cases, it was clear that SIGCHI could be part of a solution. Hence, in the end, we focused on projects which were actionable within SIGCHI. They were:
- Need: to evangelize HCI, to increase the awareness of HCI, and the
need for it, not only among computer scientists, but also for
ergonomists and business.
- Larger solution: create and support lecture series with
industrial and academic speakers, write and place articles in Computer
Magazines, show successful applications, gain visibility for companies
who achieve success through better HCI, design appropriate courses, and
keep on teaching (hard to do when funds are being cut).
- Actionable solution: Create local chapters of SIGCHI which
will advance these agendas locally. Support the work of local chapters
with a globally aware HCI organization.
- Action: extend and normalize the procedures for forming local
chapters; make them easy to discover, and understandable; support the
work needed to carry these procedures out.
- Need: A means for the HCI community to communicate with each other
globally. Europeans often know more about HCI in America than about HCI
in other European countries.
- Solution: Global agreements, mechanisms, procedures, and practices, built around and integrating local activities.
- Action: On SIGCHI's web site establish a subsite to globally
exchange local HCI information (a central page pointing off to local
pages, including template suggesting local information and structure,
how-to instructions for joining in). Establish procedures for making
commitments for local support of machines and mirrors to guarantee
information availability. Develop and establish templates for sharing
information (including possible funding) on: collaboration
opportunities, teacher exchange, visiting professors, research
proposals, industrial internships, sabbatical opportunities. As a
start, for Development Consortium participants, establish a mailing
list: firstname.lastname@example.org and explore a shared workspace tool (e.g. Web Crossing, BSCW).
- Need: HCI courses will not continue unless they are understood to
be accredited by organization(s) with authorization to do so.
Organizations to give such accreditation are appearing; co-ordination
- Solution: ACM/SIGCHI should champion an accreditation
movement, based on the local development of appropriate material,
globally assembled, coordinated, accredited, made available, and
locally deployed and enforced.
- Action: Find a SIGCHI champion for developing the processes
for such cooperation. Work with international bodies and local groups
to put process in place. Gather and disseminate existing curricula.
There were many lessons learned in this first Development Consortium, both about logistics, and about CHI/SIGCHI and supporting HCI in Eastern Europe. They have been passed on in a fuller report to the next year's co-chairs. (For CHI 98 in Los Angeles, the targeted group is defined by profession: teachers.)
However, the most exciting outcome for all of us who contributed to making the CHI 97 Development Consortium happen was the enthusiasm expressed by those who took part. They found the conference: much bigger (and sometimes overwhelming) than any they had ever been to; very well run; full of ideas to try at home; lots of (too much) information to take in; great tutorials; a source of energy to fuel future work; the opportunity to meet the famous names as real people; the chance to meet colleagues, re-establish (lost) contact; the chance to present information to a large and world-wide audience; the chance to be experience and be part of the global HCI community.
That enthusiasm now fuels our efforts to take action on the projects identified with the help of all participants in the CHI 97 Development Consortium as being ways to develop CHI/SIGCHI to more broadly engender and support that community.
Austin Henderson, Apple Computer, USA
Gerrit van der Veer, University of Twente, Netherlands
John "Scooter" Morris, Genentech, USA
Michael Tauber, University of Paderborn, Germany
Liam Bannon, University of Limerick
Viktor Kaptelinin, Umeå University
Scooter Morris, Genentech
Fabio Paterno, GNUCE-CNR
Michael Tauber, University of Paderborn
Claus Unger, University of Hagen
Boris Velichkovski, TU-Dresden
Nathalia Andrienko, Institute of Mathematical Problems of Biology, Russia
Gennady Andrienko, Institute of Mathematical Problems of Biology, Russia
Vladimir Averbukh, Urals State University, Russia
Dmitry Krechman, St. Petersburg State Electrotechnical University, Russia
Igor Nikiforov, St. Petersburg State Electrotechnical University, Russia
Marcin Sikorski, Technical University of Gdansk, Poland
Pavel Slavik, Czech Technical University, Czech Republic
Vladislav Valkovsky, St. Petersburg State Electrotechnical University, Russia
Vladislav Vorzopov, Urals State University, Russia
Vitaly Fiodorov, Simferopol State University, Ukraine
Alexander Konovalov, Urals State University, Russia
Dorian Gorgan, Technical University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Dmitry Chenosov, St. Petersburg State Electrotechnical University, Russia
Vol.29 No.4, October 1997